BLOG: A Word on Precision Agriculture
Some of our longtime readers and followers have probably noticed that, with the launch of our new website, we have included a section dedicated to agriculture news. We’ve created it having in mind the worldwide potato stocks, the new varieties and especially the newest technologies for farming, which is what I’d like to draw your attention to.
With new technologies that can distribute and measure everything from water and chemicals usage to plant developing, tuber dimensions and throughput yields, drought is still a nuisance in Europe. Potato crops were largely affected by scorching drought in recent last year(s) and the phenomenon won’t stop. “Water scarcity, together with other climate change effects such as droughts, will have a direct impact on citizens, especially in highly urbanized or densely populated areas and the coast. Changes in water availability and quality will affect critical EU sectors such as tourism, agriculture, industry, energy, and transport. Environmental effects are expected to affect biodiversity, water quality, and aggravate the risk of forest fires, soil degradation and desertification,” the European Commission warns.
The potato crop depends on a regular water supply to secure high quality yields, no matter if they come from providential rainfalls or man-made irrigations. Abiotic stress factors, such as drought, heat and salinity, have severe, adverse effects on growth and yield. The experts explain the phenomenon extensively and the farmer experiences first-hand side-effects such as lower yields, insufficient development of plants and tubers, etc.
Speaking about this, I want to highlight some disparities of potato farming worldwide:
– While European countries like Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands suffered from drought that crippled their potato production and quality over the last years, China has a clear strategy to make the spuds a national staple by 2020. Therefore, we should be able to draw the line and see how much it will be implemented by the end of next year; but the most interesting aspect is to see why China goes to this direction. The answer is very simple: potato requires 30% less water than China’s traditional staples of rice, wheat and maize, and it provides more calories and vitamins per acre.
– Developed countries, like those mentioned earlier, suffer from not implementing smart technologies such as micro irrigation systems, which are very efficient in potato crops and allow farmers to use the exactly quantity of water needed. Belgium is well-known for not benefiting from irrigation systems because of its difficult landscape and lack of water resources. But micro-irrigations are here to solve these kind of problems. When it comes to drip irrigation, for example, farmers can adjust the water used for each level of plant development and for the type of soil in their area. They can even dose water levels differently within the same field to closely match particularities in targeted soil sectors.
– Countries that are confronted with water scarcity issues are more likely to appreciate and implement this type of systems. For example, Israel’s efforts to combat desertification are often considered a unique, successful story. The country which succeeded to sustain its agricultural industry comprises almost entirely (93%) drylands. It is not surprising that so many companies in this country are involved in research in this sector.
– To use less water in agriculture is a quest for sustainability, ecology and food security and it is a concern not only for farmers and potato processors, but also for consumers, researchers and for authorities. Of course, the costs for implementing new technologies can be high for humble crops like potato. This is why I mentioned so many stakeholders who need to take action in this process, including the authorities who can develop projects in saving water and food security fields and help with legislative projects and funds. However, the consequences of not implementing them can be more costly!
More on micro-irrigation systems, sensors and artificial intelligence in potato farming will be available in our next issue of Potato Business Digital (Spring 2019), coming out soon!